Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Cast: Brooke Shields, Linda Miller, Paula Shepherd, Niles McMaster, Jane Lowry, Mildred Clinton
Director: Alfred Sole
Nutshell: Intriguing and often startling and stylish slasher film, several cuts above the usual thing. Lovingly crafted and executed.
As 1961 rolled in Patterson, New Jersey was experiencing some hard times for a state sometimes referred to the armpit of the USA. The boom of the 50s had ebbed and slowed to a virtual halt and rumbles in the Middle East were driving fuel prices ever higher and unemployment was swelling steadily. The Cuban Missile crisis loomed just months away and The famed riots of New York City were in the not too distant future as the Big Apple and its surrounds struggled to shake a growing malaise.
Two young sisters share an orthodox Catholic home but not much else. The elder one is sullen and moody with a grudge against her gorgeous little sister who is hogs the limelight whenever the two are together. While young Karen (Brooke Shields) captivates and delights, the elder Alice creates tension and uneasiness with her nasty streak often getting the better of her. She finds her life unbearably crushed by her little sister and the resentment bristles in every bone in her body. Karen is everybody’s favourite while dowdy, ugly Alice is just an unfortunate accident is the way she views her world and tries to find escape by playing pranks on people, scaring people and generally taking pleasure from watching others squirm. Nothing too serious; a cockroach here, a scary mask somewhere else.
Mother is constantly scolding Alice and blaming her for anything that goes wrong and yet she doesn’t know how to get through to her at all. Then at the Communion, a chilling knife-wielding figure in a ghastly macabre mask grabs the young Karen, stabbing her before dragging the body away and setting fire to her tiny corpse.
Suspicion of the murder starts to mount on Alice as her odd and often unsavory behavior comes to light and there are further killings with the masked figure striking viciously again and again. Alice’s mother is convinced that her daughter is not a murderer but the mounting evidence seems to point in her direction. As the body count mounts and the noose around Alice’s neck tightens, but its not long before the killer is revealed and there is still time for yet another surprisingly gruesome little kill.
Alice Sweet Alice is miles superior to the torrent of Slasher films that emerged in the wake of Halloween and then Friday the 13th. It doesn’t go by the staple slasher movie formula at all and follows more the lines of films like Diabolique and the work of Alfred Hitchcock. This is not the typical Teenage slasher film that flew off conveyor belts in the late 70s and early 80s, but far more textured and there was hardly a teenager in sight.
The film is imaginatively shot with the obvious influences shining through in a positive way. Alfred Sole manages to inject his movie with an atmosphere that is a befitting nod to the films that he idolizes. The acting is generally spot on but the mouthwatering prospect of Geraldine Page in a crucial role would have elevated this film to the realm of the sublime but sadly she was busy with Broadway and couldn’t sign on. A huge shame. There are not too many actors with the power and range that Miss Page commanded on screen and when she bristles, the audience knows it.
On the whole, Alice, Sweet Alice (AKA Communion, AKA Holy Terror) is one of those rare films that appears to improve with age. It may not be for today’s audiences weaned on films that resemble 2-minute trailers; the pacing may not be fast enough and the gore not graphic enough and there are no special effects but for those who like their horror full of atmosphere, menace, style, mystery and religious undertones…look no further. Alice, Sweet Alice is a triumph and its reissue by 88 Films on a restored Blu-ray version is sweet news for all discerning horror fans.